Last week I had a very nice e-mail from a reader in Texas. She started by telling
me she’d read all the books in the “Wolf Series” many times. Then she politely asked if I had any plans to bring out the books as audio books.
Well, I immediately sympathized with her request. I’m a serious recorded books junkie. I recently bought an MP3 player and dock to feed my habit, since my library is getting more of their new selections in this format and cassette tapes are becoming as impossible to find as a manatee in Elephant Butte Lake.
However, I had to give the lady from Texas the answer I must give whenever readers write to ask if I “have any plans” to have their favorite of my stories made into an audio book, television show, movie, or graphic novel. It’s not up to me. It’s up to the company that produces these alternative story forms.
Here’s how such projects usually develop. First, a company hears that a particular story has a following. There are many ways this can happen. The book can hit a major bestseller list or win an award.
The author’s “canon” – rather than any one specific book – can become established enough so that it is perceived that there is a perpetual audience for that author’s work. When I go into my library, I can be certain I’ll see works by Agatha Christie or P.D. James in several different formats. They’ve become “safe bets.”
Or the author can be lucky enough that one project does really well, creating the belief that there is a fresh audience for anything else with that author’s name on it.
Finally, the author’s readership lets those who produce these alternate story formats know there would be an audience for an adapted version. Especially in these days of social media and easy access to a company by electronic communications, word of mouth is more powerful than ever.
Only after there is a perception that listeners or viewers or graphic novel readers would purchase the adapted version in question is the author (or author’s agent) approached. Money is discussed and contracts are readied. From that point on, the author may be very deliberately kept completely out of the picture. This explains why so many movies or television series bear the most slender of resemblances to their source material.
Even if the author has some level of involvement, he or she rarely works on the actual project. Usually, an author’s level of involvement is more along the lines of providing some guidance. For a recorded book, this might be clarifying how a character’s voice should sound if this is not clear from the text.
I can hear a question. “But, Jane, I can see why you wouldn’t be able to make your own movie or television series. Why couldn’t you make your own recorded book? I’ve heard you read, and you’re great.”
(Really, people tell me this last. I’m not just being arrogant.)
Thank you. I do think I do a pretty good job when giving a public reading, especially when the work is a self-contained piece, like a short story. I can keep track of how various characters sound for about an hour, but I can’t swear I’d manage if the production stretched to two hours.
Moreover, I don’t have a recording studio or the distribution network. A hot topic right now is how writers can produce their own e-books. I’ve been dipping my toe into those waters. Let me tell you, if you’re not already set up for producing e-books or really like messing around with computers, making an e-book is a lot more complicated than it may seem. Even if you are set up for the process, doing a good job takes time – time I’d rather spend on writing new fiction. Producing an audio book would be much more complicated than producing an e-book.
Honestly, with a very few exceptions, I don’t particularly think authors are necessarily the best readers for their own works. The best author-read pieces I’ve encountered have been autobiographical. Tony Hillerman’s Seldom Disappointed is a great example of this. He isn’t the best reader ever but, hearing him talk about himself and his life, his strong Western accent reminding you with every word where he came from, is marvelous.
In the early days of audio books, it was sufficient for the voice actor to simply read a novel aloud – much as I do at readings or a teacher might do to a class. These days, audio books are performed, not merely read. Sometimes special effects are included, making the final result closer to the radio dramas of old rather than merely texts read aloud.
I’m more than happy to read aloud at a book-signing or convention, but I don’t think I’m up to producing my own recorded book, any more than I could play Firekeeper on the big screen.
So, what can you do if you’d really like to see an author’s works as audio books, movies, television series, or graphic novels? Tell your favorite companies that do whichever format about their work. Tell them why Through Wolf’s Eyes, The Buried Pyramid, or Child of a Rainless Year would be worth their time. Get your friends to tell them, too. They’ll listen. That’s what’s really funny about the current climate. They’ll listen to you – but they wouldn’t listen to me!